Monday, January 7, 2013

The only way is yours

I read this beautiful post from Jo Knowles this morning. Jo says a lot of things that really resonated with me, but they really boiled down to thinking about what it means to live your life. Just yours. Not the one anyone else thinks you should have, not the one you thought you wanted five years ago, but yours, now.

It's the kind of reflection that I think can apply to the creative life as well. The most common question I get from new writers is some variation on "how do I do this?" And they really don't want me to say, "you write words, and then you write some more, and you keep doing this until you've finished." I know that, because when I was starting out, that wasn't the answer I was looking to hear, either.

I wanted rules. I wanted to know that I was doing this writing thing right. Anything that would make me feel like I belonged, like I wasn't a fraud, like there was a chance I might succeed. But there isn't a universal answer - "Write only at night! With a pen filled with the finest squid ink! And never on the second Tuesday of the month! And if you even contemplate outlining, you will bring about the Writerly Singularity, where lo, all our words are reduced into babble!"

There isn't one right way. It can really seem like there is - people post their word count bars, and maybe you feel like you can never catch up. Or you hate Scrivener, but, wow, all your favorite writers sing its praises, so what's wrong with you, anyway? Or you haven't made an inspiration board, or a story soundtrack, or figured out biographies for all your characters and their pets, but you know that's what that one writer who just won that great prize did, so...

Live your life. Write your story. Your process doesn't need to look like anyone else's. Write on your smartphone during your commute, or in a notebook at a coffeeshop, or on your laptop while your child is sleeping. If you need structure, give it to yourself. If you need to write 900 pages to find the 300 good ones, do that. Realize you may need to make adjustments - what works for a short story may not work for a novel, and what worked for your first book may not work for your second. Or perhaps it will.

We are not Rube Goldberg machines. The magic isn't in the process.

You write. You write more. You do this until you're finished. Everything in between is up to you. Live your life.